Thursday, May 24, 2018

Golfer chases amateur title

TRINITY — Despite being one of the leaders of Mitchell High's inaugural state-qualifying golf team, Donnie Gabrelcik still hasn't secured a scholarship offer from a big-time college.

It appears that will be changing soon for the rising senior. Gabrelcik recently earned a spot in the field for the prestigious U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in Newton, Kan., July 14-19.

Gabrelcik had to finish in the top two among 40 at a qualifying tournament in Fox Hollow.

"That's a pretty big item to add to the resume," Mitchell coach Rick Hyatt said. "Some college is going to get itself a good golfer. And they'd better snatch him up soon."

Hyatt would know. Laying relatively low during the regular season as the No. 3 golfer on a stacked Mitchell squad, Gabrelcik turned out the clutch round of the Class 2A-5 region tournament. He separated from the pack for 1-under par 70, the only golfer under par, as the Mustangs clinched their first trip to the state tournament.

Still, that didn't guarantee success for Gabrelcik last week, despite having the Public Links qualifier — like the region tourney last October — on his home Fox Hollow tract.

"This was the golf course I grew up and played on my entire life. All my friends play here. I'm just really comfortable on it," Gabrelcik said.

That familiarity came in very handy late in his second round. Sitting at 3-under par, he caught wind that a player in the group ahead of him was at 5 under. So Gabrelcik knew he had to hit his second shot stiff at No. 15, a par 5.

"I was 165 yards out, a little downwind," he said. "I usually hit my 8-iron 163 there so I choked down a little and …"

Five feet from the hole. Easy eagle. The 5-under score held and was good for second place, while the golfer ahead of him (Winter Haven's Marc Dull) finished three shots back.

Three shots ahead was Palm Harbor's Matt Cote, who just graduated from Florida Gulf Coast (a place Gabrelcik is quite fond of — hint, hint). Cote was one of many well-established college stars in the field.

"Some of the best amateurs in the area were in this thing. He was competing against grown men," Hyatt said. "Over the last year the biggest thing with Donnie is his confidence has grown."

As has he. Gabrelcik stands 6 feet 4. And while it's expected he can crush the ball, Gabrelcik says his touch on the greens has greatly improved. And when his putter gets hot, he can save himself plenty of strokes.

He'll need all of that and stamina to boot at next month's national championships. To win the Public Links golfers must first make the 64-player cut line, out of 156 competitors, through two rounds of stroke play. Then it's match play, meaning the winner will have to prevail in six matches over four days — needing to go 36 holes on two straight days.

Sand Creek Station Golf Course is hosting the event, conducted for the 89th and final time. Its concept is to give public-course standouts, who might otherwise not get the notoriety, their opportunity at a national title. Golfers will recognize names like Billy Mayfair, Trevor Immelman and Brandt Snedeker as past champions.

Winning will require a lot of golf, no doubt, but Gabrelcik is ready. And he's not just going to Kansas for the experience.

"My goal, always, is to win," he said. "Match play is definitely more mental, you're trying to get in your partner's head. I feel pretty comfortable about that. It'll be about learning the course and developing a strategy to get to that cut line."